Some 20,000 to 25,000 cops and law enforcement officials from across the United States and Canada are expected to gather in New York City in coming days for the funerals of slain NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
The task of planning and coordinating the massive funerals has fallen on the NYPD's ceremonial unit, a special squad of officers led by Lt. Tony Giorgio.
The unit, which handles arrangements for officers and city officials, has grown from less than a handful of staffers 25 years ago to 15 officers today. Each precinct contributes one officer to the special squad to serve as pallbearers.
Eight of them, culled from various precincts, will lift and carry the coffins at the funerals and cemeteries. Giorgio, a licensed funeral director, is schooled in the delicate art of carrying coffins at shoulder height -- the way Julius Caesar was carried after his death.
Immediately after Liu and Ramos were fatally shot in an ambush Saturday in Brooklyn, Giorgio and his staff began holding a series of meetings to sort out the enormous logistics, he said.
"It is a production," said Giorgio, 53, a 32-year veteran of the force who lived for a time in Merrick.
Department protocols aside, he stressed that the wishes of the Liu and Ramos families are the main focus. "We are there for them," he said.
The Pentecostal service for Ramos is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. on Saturday at Christ Tabernacle Church in Glendale, with interment at Cypress Hill Cemetery on the Queens-Brooklyn border.
Services for Liu will be in keeping with his Asian heritage and will be scheduled pending the arrival of relatives from China, Giorgio said.
Giorgio studied funeral traditions for different faiths and cultures in mortuary school at what was then SUNY Farmingdale. That training has come in handy as the department grows more ethnically diverse and the ceremonial unit is charged with coordinating funerals for a broad array of faiths and traditions.
Giorgio was highly visible leading the pallbearers during the February 2013 funeral for former Mayor Edward Koch at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.
With huge crowds expected for the Liu and Ramos funerals, Giorgio said the department is coordinating road closings, opening up emergency lanes and arranging for EMS units if mourners become ill or overcome with grief.
Though he has handled hundreds of police funerals, Saturday's slayings jolted Giorgio.
He said, "These two officers were assassinated because of who they were."